Sue Hallgarth's Death Comes is a multi-faceted read, full of place, interesting characters, and historical facts, with a dash of mystery to tie it all together.
The place is Taos, New Mexico, which sits in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It is a town and area I passed through many times while driving back and forth between Texas, where family lived, and Utah, where I lived and worked for 25 years. A visit to this Northern New Mexico location meant taking the long way around to get where I was going, but I always found the scenery worth the extra miles.
The author's use of the setting in her book brought back many good memories for me. I thought she captured the heart of this landscape as well as any travel writer.
While Hallgarth's story is fiction, the characters in her book are real people. They include Pulitzer Prize winning author Willa Cather, and her life partner Edith Lewis. The book takes place in 1926 when the two women actually visited Taos—Cather to work on her novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop, and Lewis to paint the bold scenery in watercolor. Taos was also visited during the 1920s by D. H. Lawrence, author of the infamous Lady Chatterley's Lover, and his name frequently is mentioned in Death Comes.
Reading the book often felt like reading a history book about both Taos and the characters, who also included Mable Dodge Luhan, a wealthy patron of the arts who supported Taos art endeavors. Her home in Taos, which today is a historic inn and conference center catering to the artistic community, was where Hallgarth's characters gathered. While I was familiar with Cather and Lawrence, I was not familiar with Luhan. My curiosity led me to some research about this interesting woman, which I considered a plus for Hallgarth's writing.
Where Death Comes involves the discovery of the bodies of three Mexican women, whose murders the local sheriff is not eager to solve. This lack of interest was not to be tolerated by Cather and Lewis, and solving the mystery of who murdered the women is the book's plot.
Death Comes (the title is a glance at Cather's novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop) is the second Cather and Lewis book written by Hallgarth. The first book is On the Rocks, and covers the period when Cather was writing Shadows on the Rock. They're not your typical mysteries—and I enjoyed Death Comes so much that On the Rocks has now been added to my reading list.
Sue Hallgarth is a novelist and Willa Cather and Edith Lewis scholar. A former faculty member and administrator at Empire State College/State University of New York and William Woods University, she held a fellowship (1994-1995) from the American Council of Learned Societies to work on a biography of Willa Cather, and she was a visiting fellow at Princeton University and Rutgers University. From 1987-1996 she also served as a writing consultant and editor for the National Council for Research on Women.
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